[OcelotNews] Ocelotians at Mani-Rimdu in Thame

KD7NDG at Winlink.org KD7NDG at Winlink.org
Tue May 25 19:04:00 PDT 2010

Dear Friends & Family,    25 May 2010, Khumjung, Nepal

We've spent the last few days up at the village of Thame (Tah-may) watching the Mani Rimdu festivities.  Thame is only about 5 hour's walk from Pema's house in Khumjung, & while the trail goes down & then back up about 1,000' (300m), it's a beautiful trail.  Thame (& Khumjung) are both at about 12,600' (3850m) which is just within the tree-line, so the trail goes through forests of pine, fir, cedar & rhododendrons, with lovely vistas &\ steep drop-offs to the river below.  The final push from the river crossing up to Thame has a beautiful, clear stream below the path, with what looks like several manicured gardens of blooming yellow, white, & purple rhodies sprinkled around grassy patches & lovely boulders.

We stayed at the guest-house of the wife of the main doctor at Hillary's Khunde clinic.  She turned out to be a friend of Pema's, so we got excellent treatment.  She even gave us a room with an attached bathroom, quite a rarity up here.  They have their own greenhouse so they can grow wonderful fresh veggies, which we particularly enjoyed.

The monastery is perhaps 15 buildings about a 30-minute walk above Thame, clinging tenaciously up a ridiculously steep hillside.  The festivities were held in an outdoor courtyard, perhaps 50'x80' (15x25m) & surrounded by cold, hard, stone seats (Tenzing brought foam pads for us all to sit on, bless him).  The 6 highest-ranking lamas were seated well above the floor against the wall of the main building.  The other 3 sides of the courtyard had people sitting around, but significantly fewer than we remembered from 30 years ago. The 2 highest seats were reserved for the high lama of all Nepal, Thulshik Rimpoche, & for the rimpoche for the Thame monastery (who died a few months ago).  Since neither could attend, their seats contained pictures of them.

I should explain about rimpoches - these are the reincarnate lamas.  When a rimpoche dies, the monks wait a few years & then gather some of the late rimpoche's most treasured possessions, along with many other objects.  The monks then travel from village to village, spreading out all these objects for the children to play with.  If/when a child plays only with the old rimpoche's possessions, he is assumed to be the reincarnation of the of the old rimpoche, a rimpoche himself.

The whole plaza was covered with a blue plastic tarp.  This kept us all dry (& it rained off & on much of the second day) but the blue made it difficult for the photographers.  Christopher spent a fair amount of time showing folks how they could adjust the white-balance on their cameras to compensate for the blue.

The first day's festivities were pretty short - just some initial "music" & prayers, & then we all lined up to receive blessings from the high lamas.  These consisted of murmured prayers, the exchange of kata (thin scarves, draped around the neck), touching our heads (sometimes with stranded cloth at the end of a short staff), holy-water &/or chang (local rice beer) poured into our hand (then usually drunk &/or wiped in the hair), small "long-life" pills (interesting but not very palatable), & larger "torma" balls of barley-flour, sugar & butter which we ate.

I quote "music" because it didn't resemble our music at all.  There were long 17' (5m) horns, shorter 10' (3m) horns, huge Helmet shell horns, small, rather squeaky reed instruments (the only instruments with finger holes for notes), lots of cymbals, & lots of mostly hand-held drums.  The horns could actually produce several notes - the higher notes were pleasant enough but the lowest notes resembled a flatulent elephant.  There was no apparent score, & players seemed to play what & when they wanted, usually trying to hit the same note as their companion (which often took several seconds).  The Helmet shell horns were the nicest, but they only produced a single note.  The whole lot together produced a noise that was NOT conducive to meditation, Buddhist or otherwise.  It sounded more like a cat being swung around by its tail.  Ethnic.  But it added to the general ... ambience.

The second day was much more interesting, consisting of a series of ~15 dances, each lasting 20-30 minutes & each having several dancers dressed in a variety of colorful costumes, many with elaborate masks.  Movements were generally fairly slow & deliberate, not acrobatic in any way.  Choreography was amateurish at best, but these monks have better things to do than practice dancing.  The point of the dancing was to reenact the expulsion of evil and the forcers of the ancient Bon religion  and the adoption of Buddhism.  We found an old paper describing the Mani-Rimdu dances elsewhere, which I've included below, with comments in [square brackets].

Rol-Cham: The grand entrance of the monks wearing yellow peaked hats & playing ritual instruments [described above].

Serkyem: Dancers in black hats, which represent Vajrayana yogi priests.  This dance is to extend & enhance ones life, health, intelligence & appearance.

Ging-Cham: Danced by 4 attendants to Dorje Trollo, a wrathful appearance of Guru Rimpoche who established Buddhism in Tibet.  Two are females with drums & 2 are males with cymbals.  They make offerings to Dorje Trollo.  [We actually had 4 & 4, not 2 & 2.  Also, since we're at a monastery, all dancers are male, despite comments to the contrary.]

Dorje Trollo: A single, masked dancer, preceded by monks playing ritual instruments.

Nga-Cham: The dance of Guru Rimpoche when he blessed Samye, the first monastery in Tibet.  The 6 dancers wear golden hats with peacock feathers & they carry drums.  In the past, these hats were worn by Tibetan officials.  [This dance did not appear to be performed.]

Durdag Cham: A complicated dance with 2 skeletons & 2 black-hat dancers.  The skeletons carry a dough figure on a rope between them.  It is symbolically destroyed by the black-hat dancers.  [The skeletons were some of the most active dancers in the whole show, obviously younger monks.  As performed for us, the dough figure only appeared after the black-hats had left the stage.  The skeletons beat it up a bit, but it wasn't obviously destroyed.]

Mi Tsering: A comic interlude, featuring the Long-Life man.  [These comic interludes were quite fun.  They preferred to take the micky out of us tourists.]

Makakala: Eight dancers, each representing different deities.  Tseringma (the main long-life sister associated with Mt. Everest), Mahakala (the protector) & Mahadeva are the main ones.  [The dancing didn't seem to favor one deity above another.  A monk stopped the dancing while he gave each deity a kata.]

Zurra-rakye: A local protective deity, carries a goat horn & a long stick.  Two attendants are with him.  Hi is the guardian of Khenpalung, a hidden valley that has not yet been opened.  [This theme of hidden valleys is repeated often.  Apparently the Khumbu was one such valley once.  Our version did not include a goat-horn, even though we saw wild goats just below Thame.]

Khedro: Five female deities of wisdom or dakiknis, also referred to as skydancers.  [These also received kata while they were dancing.]

Thog-den: A second comic dance.  This is the only dance with speaking as the primary dancer jokes with his assistant & the crowd as he makes fun of teaching religion.  [This whole skit was hysterical, even though we couldn't understand the dialog.  The yeti-like assistant had fun with me, stealing one of my gloves & then my reading glasses.  They had even more fun with a good-natured student from Oregon, & the crowd threw lots of money into the plaza afterwards, probably because of Lindsey's performance.]

Lhagma: To distribute any leftover nibu, or long-life pills.  [Apparently there weren't any leftovers.  This dance was very short.]

Ti-jum: Four masked dancers carrying knives.  [There was a rectangle of sand marking where the dancers were supposed to dance, & where us observers were supposed to stay behind.  We were well behind the line, but these dancers were well over the line & got quite close to us.  I'm sure their short swords weren't very sharp, but they were metal & were waved about without much concern for us.]

Zor-cham: The ritual exorcism, where with black hats carry small torma (butter-cake offerings) which signify evil.  The dancers throw out these evil torma.

Then-cham: Is also to dispel evil influences.  Half the dancers wear black hats, the other half wear masks.  [This dance was sort of combined with the previous one.  We'd now been sitting about 7 hours, so we were glad things were hurried up a bit.]

Log-cham: The finale, with some dancers from each cham [dance].

Usually the local Sherpas dance the night away after the Mani Rimdu dancing, but since it's only been 4 months since the rimpoche died, they're sort of in mourning & no additional dances were held.  While we were somewhat disappointed, we were also freezing cold after sitting still for so many hours (it had snowed at the monastery the night before).  Tenzing had organized with a local tea-house to bring us lunch (big fresh samosas & hot chocolate) as well as hot tea in the afternoon, but after so long we were more than ready to head down to our guest-house & dinner.

We've been debating what to do with our last 12 days in the Khumbu.  We've recently heard that there ARE tea-shops up the valley behind Lukla (where we flew into).  We have to go over a high pass to get there, & the tea-houses are little more than private houses, without the amenities of most guest-houses, but apparently they'll keep us fed & they have dorm-type accommodations.  The valley itself was delightful 30 years ago, & we're looking forward to walking up it again.

BTW, please don't hesitate to write us.  We don't get internet access very often, but when we do it's usually plenty fast enough for text emails, even long ones.  We especially like questions.  Once we leave Lukla we'll probably be out of touch for over a week, but we love hearing from you.

Also, Sue's knee is holding up very well, thanks to her recent operation in Malaysia.  Thanks to all who asked.  We're all handling the altitude very well now - pretty much fully acclimatized.  And the Trekking Weight-Loss Program has kicked in with a vengeance - despite eating mountains of food, we've all lost so much weight that our clothes are falling off us!

Long Vistas & Magnificent Mountains  --  Jon & Sue (& Chris & Amanda)    s/v Ocelot
http://HackingFamily.com    http://svOcelot.com

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